Brenda Anderson Off Topic

COLUMN: Anti-vaxxer rhetoric flies in the face of modern medicine

Why is every online conspiracy theorist suddenly an expert in virology?

If you spend any time online these days, you can’t miss them.

Outspoken anti-vaxxers have popped up all over social media like chicken pox in a 1970s elementary school class.

They’re as difficult to ignore as a hospital ward full of iron lungs and as loud as a case of whooping cough.

No way, no how are you pumping that ‘untested poison’ into their arms, they open their mouths wide to yell at the world – no tetanus-related lockjaw to silence these folks. No, sir.

I wonder how many of these same people have ever flown in an airplane.

I’m guessing some of them, at least, view air travel as a basic modern convenience – a tool they count on for their employment or leisure. Are they the same people who have no qualms about climbing aboard a 737, hurtling down a runway and lifting off into the wild blue yonder?

For many – myself included – flying is an exercise in pure terror, from the moment we buckle ourselves into our seats and watch the flight attendant crank the door handle into the locked position to the moment we return safely to Earth and start breathing non-recycled air once again.

Fear is natural. Relinquishing control and putting our lives in someone else’s hands in what has the potential – however slight – to be a deadly situation, goes against human beings’ basic survival instincts.

But, in a normal year, millions of us – myself included – do it all the time, because we know the odds of something terrible happening are incredibly low and enduring a bit of emotional discomfort is better than never going anywhere.

The reward outweighs the risk. Commercial flight offers a miraculous high-speed portal that allows us to be on opposite sides of the planet on the same day. Except that it’s not a miracle; it’s science.

Is everyone who boards a flight an expert in aeronautical engineering or did they get their pilot’s licence in their spare time? Probably not.

We trust that the engineers, pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers who make flight possible are highly trained professionals – more qualified than, say, a dude who spends his day at the controls of a video game in his mom’s basement.

But when it comes to vaccines, every conspiracy theorist with an internet connection is an expert. And they’re not afraid to tell the rest of us what fools we are for placing our faith in modern medicine.

The first vaccine (against smallpox) was developed in the 1790s – more than a century before that famous inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk. The science is solid, but always evolving. Vaccines are the reason why, if you want to see an iron lung up close today, your best bet is a museum (or the nightmarish basement of an abandoned hospital).

Humanity has been living through a nightmare of a sort for the past 16 months and, finally, the end is in sight – thanks to an international push that threw massive wads of cash into furthering a process that was already well underway.

And credit must be given, too, to the people in the lab studies who allowed themselves to be injected during the testing phase – the Orville and Wilbur Wrights among us.

Can we be 100 per cent sure that nothing will go wrong? Of course not. Tragically, for a handful of people it already has. But that toll is a small fraction of the number of people who have died from COVID-19 since the first vaccines were approved for use.

The difference is, unlike air travel, we’re asked to get vaccinated for the good of everyone, rather than for our personal benefit or enjoyment. This, apparently, is where some people draw the line.

Certainly, there are people whose health prevents them from being vaccinated. Others aren’t quite convinced that it’s safe and are quietly abstaining. Their hesitation is understandable.

But do these same people who can’t bear to keep their vastly superior knowledge to themselves picket airports as well, yelling insults at people who are about to board a plane?

You don’t want the vaccine, that’s up to you.

The rest of us will protect ourselves, the people we love and, in the process, you, too.

The fact you’re here to label the rest of us “idiot lab rats” – well, chances are, somewhere in your family’s history, you have a vaccine to thank for that.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News